A Pastor’s Perspective on Death and Evolution
In an essay for The BioLogos Forum, guest writer Marcio Antonio Campos looks at the apparent contradiction between death entering the world through the Fall and the role of death in the process of evolution. If death did not exist before Adam and Eve, how could God have used evolution to create man? And what about predators and natural catastrophes such as the mass extinction of the dinosaurs, which both imply the existence of physical death before the Fall?
For those who didn’t get a chance to read the three responses presented in Campos’ wonderful piece, we certainly encourage you to do so. Today, however, we’d like to look at two videos from Daniel Harrell, Senior Minister of Colonial Church in Edina, Minnesota.
In the first video Harrell addresses the way that we view death. As we see in Paul’s letters, there is a judicial idea that physical death is the punishment for sin. According to Harrell, however, this is not the whole story. Death has a redemptive aspect as well.
Biologically speaking, the pastor reminds us, you cannot have life without death. New life is always accompanied by death. In spite of our belief that death is in some sense a punishment for sin, there is also the reality that Christ died for our sins yet we continue to die. The reason for this is difficult to explain if death truly is nothing but a punishment. A question continues to linger in the air: “If Jesus died to save me from dying then why do I still die?”
Harrell suggests, however, that the reason we continue to die is that death is not altogether bad. In fact, according to our understanding of biology, Harrell says, Adam would have died even if he had never sinned at all. There are two sides to death. On one hand, the broken relationship that comes from sin is a kind of death. On the other hand, physical death is a necessary part of biological life. As living organisms we all have a lifespan. Had Adam never sinned, Harrell believes he would still have passed at some point from this life to the next just as we will one day do through our faith in Jesus Christ.
In the second video, Harrell engages us in a speculation over why God may have chosen to create life through the evolutionary process. Christians often struggle to accept that God created through evolution because it is a process that requires a great deal of death and waste. They doubt that God would have chosen to create in a way that was not linear and beautiful.
Harrell, however, proposes that as Christians we can accept the idea of evolution in spite of these difficulties. He comes to this conclusion by realizing that death is part of the character of God. God’s supreme expression of love, in fact, was an act of death; Christ gave himself fully for the ones he loves.
Evolution is, in a sense, an analogy to this act of love we see in Jesus’ death. The many organisms that have lived and died throughout the course of evolution are God’s gift to his beloved children. All of this was “spent by God for the sake of life”.
As human beings, we expect God to do things the way we would do them: in an efficient, linear, and tidy manner. In reality, Harrell reminds us, God functions in ways that don’t make sense to us at all. After all, who would expect the God of the universe to become human and die? Likewise, it doesn’t make sense to us that God would create a world that exists through dying. However, God’s actions are not constrained by whether they “make sense” to mankind, for his ways are above ours.
Commentary written by the BioLogos editorial team.
Daniel Harrell is the Senior Minister of Colonial Church in Edina, Minnesota. Before stepping into this role, Harrell served as associate minister at Park Street Church in Boston, Massachusetts for over twenty years. He is the author of the book Nature’s Witness: How Evolution Can Inspire Faith, and is author of the forthcoming book How To Be Perfect: One Church’s Experiment with Living the Book of Leviticus.